Dunsink Lane, Dublin 15, D15 XR2R

#2 The Treasure Trove

Hi there! It’s Hannah here and I’m gonna kick off this blog by telling you a little bit about my summer project with DIAS Astronomy and Astrophysics.


This summer I’ve been fortunate enough to be working with Dr. Caitriona Jackman on enhancing the outreach and engagement activities at Dunsink Observatory. Dunsink Observatory is a beautiful building dating back to 1783 when it was the first building in Ireland constructed specifically for scientific research. It has an incredibly rich astronomical heritage. Dunsink was the workplace and residence of Ireland’s greatest ever mathematician and scientist, Sir William Rowan Hamilton, and is forever associated with his discovery of quaternions. There are many great exhibitions in Dunsink, thanks to the great work in particular, of last year’s interns. However, my project aims to attract a new type of audience to Dunsink and in order to do so, I’m creating planetary science themed activities that are really interactive. Luckily, on Friday the 19th of June, I had the brilliant opportunity to scope out the place!

For the three weeks prior to my visit I had been brainstorming some wild and wacky ideas(some of which involve inflatable planetariums and escape rooms) and had been researching the feasibility of each of them, timescale for operation and such details… of course due to COVID 19 restrictions all of this had been done from the comfort of my own bedroom. My days had been filled with Zoom meetings and extensive googling. Luckily though, that Friday morning, I had the brilliant opportunity to check Dunsink out for myself! And boy was I excited.. not only just to be leaving my house, but also for the treasure trove of goodies I was soon to be discovering. 

The Lunar room at Dunsink Observatory

It was a cold and windy day when I arrived to Dunsink just after ten to be greeted by Caitriona and Peter who were working by the fireplace of the Hamilton room. The room is filled with fabulous old pieces including the desk Hamilton worked at when he was resident at Dunsink Observatory. Soon after I’d arrived, Peter and Caitriona brought me on an extensive tour of the building. I saw the impressive work of last year’s interns as well as all of the fascinating pieces Dunsink has to offer. We visited the solar room, the lunar room, the meridian room and even what was Hamilton’s living space. Yet, the true treasures were still to be discovered…

Finally, Peter and Caitriona brought me downstairs to the basement and this was where I was to spend the rest of my morning, scavenging through fascinating papers, photographs and pieces of equipment dating way back. The basement consisted of many different rooms, one of which was, once upon a time, used as a darkroom and another where the computers and equipment currently operating the NEMETODE meteor network are based. 

1997 copy of Astronomy magazine

One really cool piece of equipment that I discovered was the dismantled pieces of the ADH(Armagh-Dunsink-Harvard) telescope. This telescope was an Irish American collaboration and was jointly owned by the two Irish observatories and by Harvard. The collaboration came about post world war two when thought was being given to the need for further development of astronomical research in Ireland. A meeting at Shannon airport in 1946 between DeValera and Dr. Shapley(the then Director of Harvard College Observatory) paved the way for the subsequent development and setting up of the ADH telescope at the Boyden station of the Harvard Observatory in South Africa.

I also discovered lots of optical equipment, a film reel projector, some H alpha filters, old style calculators and cash registers, micrometers and many more. One of my favourite things to look at were some copies of Astronomy issued in 1997. I also really enjoyed reading a hard copy of the Xiang et al paper published in 1987 titled “Apparent velocities of sources moving in the gravitational field of a kerr black hole”.

Photograph of Erwin Schrodinger

While I was looking through these fancy pieces a very excited Peter came running into me to tell me he had found some pictures of Erwin Schrodinger buried in the computer room. The theoretical physicist in me was instantly very excited. In addition to this, we found a photograph of the Campanile in Trinity College Dublin while under construction. 

All in all, I had a great morning at Dunsink Observatory and discovered lots of really cool historical pieces which I can’t wait to incorporate into future outreach activities.